Monday, 27 October 2008

Codex Sinaiticus Part 3: Texts and Manuscripts

For many the whole area of Texts and original manuscripts is just an unintelligible minefield. The old joke was 'if it was good enough for Paul it is good enough for me' but there are serious issues at stake here too.

The ESV is increasing in popularity and is heavily endorsed by the likes of Piper and Grudem, but the ESV is based on a different family of manuscripts to those that lie behind the KJV and the NKJV. The ESV also has a different philosophy of translation in spite of its claim to be basically a 'word for word' translation. The ESV is an evangelical RSV and the RSV could never be described as 'basically word for word'; neither can the ESV.

The fact is there are literally thousands of ancient manuscripts but scholars can identify definite family characteristics. The whole theory of the 'transmission of the text' is hypothetical. Although different scholars take different positions on the matter, the fact is they are all hypotheses.

The most carefully reasoned hypothesis, to my mind, is from Robinson and Pierpoint. Essentially it claims that the original form of the Greek texts, known as the autographs is best represented in the texts which have the 'Byzantine' family likeness (sometimes called 'the Majority Text). Robinson surmises that some copyists developed a much freer copying pattern in which the original text was 'expanded' with explanations; these are known as the 'Western' family characteristics. Later copyists tried to redress this by going in the opposite direction and trimming out anything they thought might be an addition; this created shorter versions which are known as having the 'Alexandrian' family likeness. Robinson believes they trimmed out much that was part of the original Greek text. The Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus are members of the 'Alexandrian' family.

For those who 'know a little Greek' (yes, I know the joke about him running a kebab van!!) There is a very valuable and very cheap book available on Amazon. It is called The New Testament in the Original Greek; Byzantine Textform and if you buy it from it will still cost you less than £20 even with postage and packing. It contains a Greek text created by Robinson and Pierpoint and is perhaps the closest we have yet got to those original writings of Paul and the others. For those who are into this kind of thing he provides the textual variants from the NA27 and USB4 modern critical texts in footnotes. He also provides the significant Byzantine variations in marginal notes. This is a very valuable tool and the volume also contains some 'essays' from Robinson in which he sets out very clearly his transmission hypothesis.

OK, for some readers this will not be the most exciting blog they will read today, but if you know people who are seriously trying to understand this whole field, this is a great buy!

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